Dream trip Day 49 Banco, plane to Brussels, Belgium beer

Whilst in Andorra I had time to think about what I wanted to do, go and I realized I needed to see my friends who were coming to Barcelona for a few days.

I used a cool website that searches all departing flights out of an airport and averages out 2 weeks of fares.

I very nearly picked Morocco but ultimately decided to enjoy Belgium as round trip was right at $100.

Only thing was I had to fly out mid-week thus leaving myself about 2 hours to get my card, breakfast and get to airport.

When I woke I didn’t shower, get free coffee or anything, I was on a mission!

It wasn’t as big of a hassle as I expected. Walked into the bank, spoke with the teller who needed my passport for ID, then handed me my card back.

On the way to the hostel I felt total relief when my card withdrew euros. I wasn’t sure if the bank would call my bank and tell them it was lost or if the card was demagnetized.

It’s pretty peculiar how check out times vs flight times seem to never align. You’ve got to wake up very early and rush to the airport or wait around most of the day. I had 2-3 hours before my flight to kill either out in the city or cooped up at the airport.

I had enough time to snag a free cup of coffee at the hostel. It was a pay by weight buffet style, cold foods and grains, but I didn’t see a cashier or any $ change hands.

Plus coffee is very cheap, it’s likely a 80% profit for them so I do not feel bad having a free cup.

Found a breakfast shop close to the hostel and procured a hot meal of potato, egg and bacon pie like dish. ‘Twas a good send off meal.

While the metro does indeed stop at the airport, there are 2 terminals so, you guessed it, I did not get the metro to my terminal.

No worries, that’s why you get to airport over an hour early right? Well the solution was simple, a bus that shuttles between terminals.

10 minutes go by, we are still making stops.

20 minutes, now what?! We actually get on the highway, that’s how big this airport is!

Oh don’t you know that my airlines requires me to check in to get boarding pass.

The airport, while huge, doesn’t accept app boarding passes and since I’m flying to another country or some such ‘security’ reason, my airline won’t send me a printable boarding pass.

It’s a huge line of course once the bus drops me off and I locate my airlines. I have to also go through security too. I estimate my flight begins boarding in 30 minutes.

Line moves very quick, most people aren’t checking bags so the process is literally tell them a name, show passport and they print a ticket. Maybe 1 minute per person.

I now have 10 minutes to pass security and find my gate.

Small security line which I fly through. Approach the screen with flight info and yup, my flight has been delayed. Haha all that worrying for a lot of nothing.

I had over a half hour now so I walked the terminals. Some bad weather was the reason for the plane delay.

When it came time to board the lady taking my ticket advised me it was only 1 carry on bag free, ‘you have 2 bags,’ she said.

Technically true, a backpack and an over the shoulder bag, a murse one might say. It was certainly not as large as some of the purses I saw ladies carry.

‘It’s small, it will fit on my lap. Are you going to also charge ladies for purses now too?’ I ask.

‘Try to fit it into backpack.’ She replies.

I dramatically shoved it into my backpack with most of it still jutting outside as I attempted to move things around so it will fit, but some people laughed and a lady came to my rescue stating ‘seriously?’ to the attendant as she passed us.

‘Go… go on now, ‘ the ticket lady told me.

I bring a small bag to stow my iPad, headphones, water etc. specifically so I have everything I need with me in my seat and can sit quickly vs rummaging through my backpack in the aisle, like others do, holding up the boarding process.

Secondly, I figured if I’m robbed they will take 1 bag to speed things up. They ain’t getting all my stuff is my hope, too.

I collapsed into my seat and pretty much fell asleep for the 2 hour flight. Damn airports and budget airlines wore me out.

Upon finding the rail line I remembered why tickets were so cheap: 2 very stern military guys stalked the platform, guns at their chests, barrels aimed down.

Duh, there had been a bombing in Brussels in the past month so people were still wary.

Lightning won’t strike twice will it? We shall see, bad things happen everywhere.

A few stops and a long walk I was at the river my hostel was adjacent to.

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Smooth check in and I reward myself with a beer from a cooler by the doors. Cheap prices too.

After dropping my stuff in my room, got the top bunk yet again, I find a seat next to an outlet in the waiting room and charge up whilst I savor my well-earned beer.

I scan around and find a couple Irish pubs near city centre. The Euros were nearly over and due to the amount of time I’d dedicated to this point, I felt I had to finish.

Brussels seemed to be permanently overcast I noted as I recalled the last rainy few hours when I was here in May.

The walk was down the street from my hostel, due east for about 15 minutes, then it suddenly opens up and it’s city centre.

No cars, so lots of street performers. In fact they must have performances here as there are bleachers off to one side of the street.

There were already protests, demonstrations going on the steps at old city hall. Today it was for people killed in the wars for oil.

It’s tough walking by as an American because we started it, hard to argue oil wasn’t a primary motivation for the Persian Gulf war and yes all bombs and bullets do not only hit bad guys, they kill children, mothers, families.

Crying women, my sons, my cousin, my grandparents, killed, and for what? Read their signs…

I kept walking to my pub shaking off the horrors my country is known for just so I can drive around using cheap gas, oil based bags and other consumables.

The streets are black cobblestone in Brussels and since downtown has limited car traffic, walking around is easy and safe.

A short time later I find the Irish pub as well as the last empty seat at the bar, TVs are to my left center and right sides. I’m covered.

The place fills up as I down a white, saison beer, one of my least fav styles up there with anything smoked and sours. Oddly I’d change my mind about sours while in town…

I order some food before the game and a good, light Belgium ale.

France was well represented at this pub starting with the French national anthem sung by several tables followed by loud gasps and a couple chants during the match.

Luckily they won and on my walk to my hostel I watched two groups of French fans meet up in the middle of the street and sing La Marseillaise. Les national anthem.

It was round 11 and I felt like one more beer but mainly my new favorite pastime was changing my shoes into flip-flops to sit outside whilst my feet aired out. I just hoped no one smelled anything, I mean I’d walked many kilometers per day.

As I enjoyed some outdoor time, I was entertained by a group of very drunk English guys trying to set up a beer funnel. Problem was the very different heights of the two guys attempting this maneuver.

The solution was one stood on a bench, while the other kneeled. Beer still went all over as is the hallmark of funneling beer in their state. A glass was knocked over near me too.

One of the group came over and apologized, made sure I wasn’t hit by flying glass.

I told him I was fine and we laughed at how dumb a couple of his friends were acting.

Ran into the English guys again later inside and the one I chatted with outside bought me a beer at the pub and asked if I was good at pool.

No matter the answer I was playing their game. 1£ per person, everyone took a shot, you were out if you missed, last person left won the pot.

I was introduced and everyone cheered. I reminded them of a friend of theirs back home as well as a character from a British tv show named Smitty.

I go fairly far but don’t take the pot. More beers appear, as do shots.

The place is closing soon and unbelievably they are all going out to another pub. I’m exhausted by this point so I tell them I catch up with them tomorrow.

Beer: Ramée blonde

Song: Oasis     Rock n Roll Star

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Dream trip Day 48 Goodbye Andorra, back to Barcelona by bus

I was greeted to the faint sounds of cat paws at my door so I played with kitty for a bit to start my day. I do like playful cats that bat at anything you dangle in front of them and this kitty seemed to never tire.

I decided on Bfest at the little French bakery, the one with the pretty waitress.

Sure enough she was there smiling away whilst she made coffee. But since she made the coffee I had to talk to an older lady with a morning scowl on her face.

It took pointing at several items before she selected the sugar-coated croissant I wanted. I knew I said croissant correctly so I do not know why she indicated at a scone like item, then a kolache like pastry before she started pointing at croissants.

This occurred at several places and the servers seemed put out by it even though I know I ordered correctly, they seemed to create this narrative that I was being difficult, but I felt they were deliberately misunderstanding.

Just because we don’t speak the same language doesn’t mean we cannot communicate or figure out what each other needs.

I watched as the fair lady made my coffee and smiled at me when the waitress picked it up.

‘Laut?’ She asked me. I said Si, and nodded. The waitress then poured in about 1 second worth of milk and delivered it to me.

I’m used to having control of milk pouring but I was soon to learn that was a luxury in Europe. No self pour, milk is a premium.

I watched the busy cafe fill up and empty with ladies having tea, couples talking over coffee and a large family with kids, coffee for all.

Occasionally I snuck a glance at my favorite lady, she was smiling. She wouldn’t be a 10 in anyone’s book I don’t feel, but sometimes you see someone who has that magnetism, that look of familiarity, that rare combo of features that flip your switch, that’s what she had.

I got another coffee, I didn’t have anywhere to go for another couple of hours so why not.

As I was leaving I glanced back at the lady I fancied and noted she was still smiling.

I walked around the block a couple of times, took the long way back to the apt.

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I was only a 5 min walk to the bus station and had a bit over an hour before my bus was scheduled to leave so I played with the cat for a bit.

I usually am not a cat fan, I get ignored by people all the time so getting a pet who pretty much ignores you until you want to be left alone isn’t my dream, but I liked playful cats.

I gave this cat one last cheek rub and was out the door.

I’d learned the stressful way that the bus I was on took physical tickets vs scanning an app. They even counted via number card that you received with your ticket.

Again with the confusion by ticket lady, I stated I had a ticket to Barcelona and was ready to give her my confirmation # so she quoted me a price.

I showed her my phone and read the confirmation numbers. Finally she understood and duly printed off a ticket.

I moved over to the side with the river once the bus took off as there were maybe 10 people riding vs full bus on the way in.

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Andorra is gorgeous, nestled near a river flowing between two mountains.

It is very spread out chain of small towns, it seemed, as we drove by a long cluster of houses, apartments, then green space, soon followed more buildings. This stretched for miles before it became large farmhouses.

Some farms even had a small brick structure, sort of like churches on them that are now derelict. I presumed a big farm family or two gathered to worship or hold small gatherings, parties.

Driving into Barcelona is an interesting experience. Seeing the city creep up with manufacturing plants warehouses and then suddenly you’re sitting in traffic in a neighborhood.

We note the source of the traffic as we soon pass by a wreck on the opposite side of the road which was very fortunate for many reasons.

The pile up behind the wreck stretched for miles, it took several minutes driving at highway speed before I saw the end of the line of cars.

We pulled into the bus station, conveniently connected to the train station where I procured a ticket to El Clot station.

Quite a packed station so of course it’s impossible to navigate. Spread out a bit people, that’s all I ask. Large groups of people standing in a circle block the way through so one platform is super crowded while there is plenty of room next to it.

I’ve adopted the tap on shoulder as I pass through, taking my backpack off too so I can get through narrow spaces of people.

I get on the wrong train as a result of my haste to get away from the crowd as I see the train is heading towards the port or west but I need to head east.

A simple fix, just get out at next station and find the right train. Easy and there’s one coming in the next 5 min.

This gives me enough time to give a guy directions to downtown station and how to find a landmark.

I think he was Belgian. I’d finally become that guy who knew his way around more than 1 city in another country. A good moment.

I knew my way round the El Clot area, a bit north-east of town, I stayed at the previous hostel since it was near the bank where my ATM card was held.

This part of the trip was a bit unplanned as I had about 10 days to kill before some friends would be in town, but I couldn’t do anything until I retrieved my cash card.

It was quite fortunate to come back to Barcelona as it’s a major airport hub so I could fly most anywhere in Europe pretty cheap.

I showered and headed out for food and to catch another soccer match. Fast stir fry noodles were all over the city and most are quite affordable.

I hit up the old standby, Irish pub for an after dinner pint.

Place wasn’t too crowded but felt like it as the back bar was closed for a private party so I fit myself into a small spot near the bar for the first half.

Most places in Europe don’t have AC and mid July in a packed bar you need one or at least fans, I was sweating!

I don’t think I bothered to finish the half, I had it with the stuffy heat and was greeted by the much-needed ocean breeze as I hit the street.

I figured the craft bar spot would be better and I was right on: AC and an empty chair at the bar. Score!

I finished the game and had a couple pints before calling it an early night, had to be at the bank as early as I could.

I walked to the hostel, it was only 20 min walk down a well-lit thoroughfare so I felt safe.

Beer: San Miguel Fresca
Song: DNCE   Cake by the Ocean (the metro had screens playing a clip of this song. Over and over and over)

 

Dream trip Day 47 Why Andorra? Dali, cathedral

You may be wondering why the hell I wanted to go to a tiny country that is virtually unknown and a 3 hour trip only accessible by bus from Barcelona. It’s 7ish hour by bus from closest city in France, not a tourist destination by any stretch.

In 2nd grade my teacher had a large world map on the wall. Nearly every day before class or after recess I’d stare at it.

I think I was just taken by all the strange country names, like Wales.

My teacher noticed my interest and would tell me about some of the places she’d visited.

One day she challenged me to find the smallest country in the world. It took me awhile and several incorrect guess before I found it: Andorra!

I went to a Baptist school so we didn’t count Vatican City, which is smaller in land mass and population since it was really just a religion HQ and not real country.

After rewarding me with a gold star she had me point out Andorra to the class and I blurted out, ‘and I’m going there when I’m older!’

Kids say dumb things, but I followed through on this dumb promise about 30 years later. A big thanks to Mrs Jackson wherever she may be, for lighting the travel fire in me.

I got ready to the sounds of pawing and meowing at my door. Seems my hosts left the cat and I alone.

Popped into a French bakery and was waited on by a very cute lady with blonde hair, dark roots.

She had a smile permanently on her face and radiated beauty. I had to make her laugh, a prospect made very difficult as she didn’t speak English.

I failed making her laugh, but I did successfully order a croissant and coffee with milk in French.

Actually I have no idea what the official language of Andorra is…I just heard French spoken the most. I think locals alternate French Spanish and/or Cantalonian.

Downtown Andorra la Vella is basically a mall, but a river runs through the city so I figured I’d follow that in both directions.

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I turn left at the river and greeted by a large crowd. An officer is hand directing traffic, but only away from the tourist building.

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Andorra has a bomb squad it seems and they have been deployed near the tourist center throughly checking out a car. They’ve blocked off several areas with police tape.

The walkway I’m heading to is clear so I tentatively walk on.

I never found out what was going on, a threat of some sort? Maybe a car parked too long or too close to a gov building?

I am soon at a converging of rivers and roads. To my surprise there stands a huge piece of art, a melting clock no less.

Wait, no it couldn’t be but the plaque states it is indeed a piece by Salvador Dalí!

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There have been a lot of art by famous artist on my trip but most, especially any thing by DiVinci, are pay to see. This was not only free it was nearly impossible not to see it.

Pleasantly surprised at my discovery, I continue my walk by the river, en route to the cathedral of Andorra.

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Built in the 12th century this was the oldest cathedral in Andorra and still in use!

It was small but pretty with a well out front, not in use so it was covered by iron cage so ole Timmy couldn’t fall into it.

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Up some very old stone stairs I located a courtyard with a high view of the city.

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A nice view of the tops of buildings, the rushing river and an art installation consisting of several large Buddha like figures seated cross-legged that appeared to light up at night. Even in the daylight their yellow hue seemed to glow, like light posts.

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Further along was a small park and I always enjoy a walk through the park. What struck me about this park was the amazing playground.

They had the usual equipment, swings and jungle gym, but they also had an extreme merry-go-round or at least that is the closet thing I can compare this amazing piece of equipment.


It appeared kids would sit or stand in a small bowl which spun around, just above a pool of water. Over water, kids are spun around by this apparatus!

I guess being from the US where playgrounds are being removed due to danger or threat of injury, seeing any piece of equipment over water is quite a cool sight.

Let the kids play, I say! Some may get hurt but not all, others will watch and learn perhaps what is worth a risk and what’s not.

I spied a crafts shop and correctly guessed they sold postcards and stamps.

I was now at the furthest western point of the city that was still walkable. It continued for miles but not entirely walkable so I turned around.

As I passed a German pub I decided to quench my thirst and write those postys.

Upon trying to stick the stamps on the cards I discovered they were quite old so the glue had evaporated, they wouldn’t stick!

Now where am I going to get glue or small bit of tape in Andorra, I wondered.

After 2 beers I had it figured out: phlegm! I’d been hacking up loogies all week so I just had to delicately and discreetly…

I shan’t gross you out further, but I can say those stamps stayed on the cards until delivery. I am quite pleased with myself on figuring out this solution, gross though it may be.

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The list of things to do in the city is a short one and the other attraction was a stone bridge built several centuries ago.

Just follow the river in the other direction and eventually I’d run into a stone bridge.

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It was indeed a nice old stone bridge, like they used to make but don’t anymore. In fact the other bridges were very modern, suspension style so this some one really stuck out but then again, it wasn’t in city centre so most people likely didn’t use or see it unless you went looking for it.

I spied a gleaming building off towards the mountains so I felt a walk by would be worth it.

It was a crystal church, well mirrored learning center.

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Andorra was a clash of very old stone and modern steel building styles I felt.

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It was mid afternoon so of course my constant rain companion made its presence known, time to recharge at the apt and wait out the rain, again.

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After an hour or so of light rain, I located a nice Asian restaurant close by. Here it seemed common for most places to close after lunch, then open for late dinner round 8.

I ordered what should have been a nice noodle dish with chicken only to be told I couldn’t have it unless I also ordered another dish, a 2 item combo.

An expensive 2 item combo so a quick menu explanation resulted in just noodle and veg.

Whilst I waited and ate, I watched an amazing array of Korean and Japanese pop star videos. The stars were very androgynous, to the point I am still not sure if they were boys or girls.

After my disappointing meal I walked out in search of some pre dark photos of the houses on the mountains or other scenic vistas when I turned a corner I saw the street was chained off.

In fact most westerly routes were blocked so I kept walking north until it became obvious why: a huge tent had taken over a large lot. Cirque du Soleil was in town!

I was turned away, no more tickets, in fact, the whole engagement was sold out. I reckon there isn’t much else to do in town so most any event, should sell out.

There were only a couple of bars in town so back to the rock bar.

More people out tonight, a lot more. I settle in with a beer and watch a bit of the YouTube videos, but I spy an interesting sight in a corner TV on the other side of the bar.

A small screen shows a familiar scene from Vice City: Santa Monica.

I go over to play and locate the joystick. The bartender notices and takes me to the computer hooked up and shows me how to switch between games by pointing at certain keys.

An amazing array of games too: Punch Out, Rampage, Kung Fu, and 1942! Pretty much all the games I used to play in the Gold Mine at Northcross mall are represented.

It’s been a two night flashback to my childhood, the same things I was into back when I declared I’d go to Andorra. It was one of those moments that I felt like I was where I was supposed to be.

Beer: San Miguel Selecta

Song: Eurythmics Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)

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Dream trip Day 46 Andorra, ATM issues, Billy Idol

Alex had an early flight and I too had to be out early at the hostel. It was only at this moment that a 2 o’clock bus was a bad idea if I had to be out of my hostel at 10. What to do for 4 hrs?

Should’ve taken the noon bus…

I stowed my bags and set off walking round the neighborhood.

I spied an ATM, knew I’d need some € for Andorra as I wasn’t sure if my card would work as it isn’t in the EU or UK.

I stick my card in but when it comes time to take it, the machine merely teases me, a hair less than I can grasp is all that it will release.

I panic and try to get a hold with my fingernails, nope.

Please take your card more quickly the screen flashes, my card is comically out of my grasp, the machine seems to be mocking me.

Beeps stop and my card is sucked into the machine, no cash, no card. My mind races now as I’m very far away from my bank and have no set address in which to ship a new card… pop quiz hotshot, what do you do?

Literally worst case scenario: no card, no cash, hours away from paid bus ride to another country. Oh panic and anxiety, my friends have returned!

I sit down, ok I should try to get my card back first, I don’t think the ATM destroys cards, it probably dumps them in a bin to be retrieved later somehow.

The machine is attached to bank so it’s got to be theirs so they can get my card.

I enter the most secure bank I’ve ever stepped inside: press button, doors open to another set of doors and another button. Wait, doors behind you close, then the front doors open and you walk into the bank.

I explain in Spanish my situation to teller. She points me to office with a guy talking with another woman.

We walk over and she says roughly translated ‘we’ve got another one with ATM card eaten.’ So yes two people within a few minutes of each other’s cards have been taken by this machine!

‘Mañana,’ he says to me.

I explain in Spanish I’m about to hop on a bus. He looks at me, ‘English, yes? We will hold your card here, just come back anytime during bank hours, 9-2.’

Problem 1 solved, I just had to come back to this bank in Barcelona.

Problem 2 get cash, a lot more places than you’d think are cash only.

I’m still a little shell-shocked so I sit for a while and let my new reality set in. No sense freaking out, that doesn’t get your card back faster, you have to wait, the situation is out of your control now.

I walk back to the hostel to get my bags which has my other ATM card hidden away.

I’d planned on losing a card but I figured it would be due to a pickpocket, robbery as all the websites I read indicated Europe wasn’t safe. No mention about shitty card eating ATMs.

The difference between cards is the one eaten refunded fees which saves a lot of money accessing cash in many countries.

I decided to call it a day and just wait for my bus at the station. There were ATMs there so I’d be ok for the 2 days in Andorra.

Waiting for a bus, train, or plane is the worst thing about traveling and I still don’t have a good coping option other than listening to music and pacing. Plenty of sitting time ahead I reckon.

I was seated near a large what I presumed was a church youth group, they played I spy game loudly, pointed nearly every type of car and all were just a bit too I don’t know, vanilla? Gosh and golly look at that were uttered repeatedly is the only case I have for church group, maybe they were just super nice folks? Is that possible?

One guy in the back kept losing a small soccer ball.  Someone near the middle would roll it back until it really got rolling.  A sudden brake caused the ball to spin towards the front, near the driver who held it.

The road to Andorra is very scenic, passing old stone houses, cathedrals and lakes.

Holy crap there is a huge concrete dam! Out in the middle of nowhere too, just a long river, bam, large concrete dam, then a small lake. No cities near any of these.

Slowly small farms, a couple of buildings and houses appear as we close in on the city.

It’s a very strange layout as the city likely extends for miles along the highway alternating homes, businesses and shops but we do not stop.

The town narrows between two mountains and a river to one side. Dark foreboding clouds appear on cue as we pull into the bus station.

Ah yes of course no internet signal here, have to find wi-fi to locate directions to my apt.

Well well well, McDonald’s my nemesis, there you are yet again what with your shitty food but free wi-fi. Finally you are good for something.

Raindrops keep falling on my head, they keep falling…

Literally 5 minutes away I’m at my apt and see my host waving to me from a window above the door to building.

He knows little English, I know no Catalonian, which he says he speaks.  We work out a combo English, Spanish, pointing as he shows me around his place.

Rain pelts the windows, not going anywhere for a while.

He has a very playful, curious cat that paws and bats anything hanging on my bags. He even climbs into a drawer I opened and I watch him paw at a pamphlet one page at a time.

His cuteness has worn out when he does the most cat thing and bats at my arm as I type. It’s like seriously cats, you were just entertaining yourself but now when I look away that’s when you want my attention ? Outside he goes.

My host leaves so I lay down for a moment and think about how far I’ve traveled, all I’ve seen, how fortunate I am.

I rise after a bit reflection I head out in search of food.

Haha Andorra Donner it is, wasn’t sure about cuisine here, it’s between Spain and France. This sounded better than pizza, fast food or Starbucks, which are all I see around the apt.

I spied a corner bar on the way so I pop in for a pint after dinner.

I’m one of maybe 4 people in the bar, a couple is finishing eating what looks like sausages, another is talking and drinking coffee.

This bar closes very early, round 10, so I located a rock bar close by my apt.

There is no cell signal in Andorra, only wi-fi can you connect to maps or get info.

I am one of 2 people in the rock bar and of course the bartender speaks no English so I point to Warsteiner, oddly a very German draft beer, and he pours.

‘American?’ He asks and give me a thumbs up. ‘Van Halen! Aerosmith! I love!’

On one side of the bar is a screen and he is projecting music videos directly from YouTube right at comfortably loud level. It could probably be lower but it’s not so loud you cannot think.

I tell him I love those bands too. Then a Black Sabbath video comes on so I give him two thumbs up, ‘Esta bien, mucho gusto!’

The rest of the evening, I’m treated to an all too familiar, classic 80s videos I grew up watching. Twisted Sister, Ratt, Van Halen, Motley Crue and Billy Idol are all represented and somehow even though he indicated I can pick a selection, all of these come up via random playlist and I likely would have chosen them anyway.

These videos were a big part of my life in the early to mid 80s during the time I learned about Andorra and declared that I’d go there one day.

After a few beers and many videos I wave goodbye to my new rock friend.

I fall asleep with a big smile on my face: 20+ year promised fulfilled!

Beer: Warsteiner

Song: Billy Idol   Rebel Yell